Amarillo, TX - A local charity is making it a mission to provide safety for runaway and homeless children and teens.
A national organization serving at almost 20,000 locations has found it's place in the panhandle as the number of homeless children increases. Sonja Steelman, the administrator for the Catholic Charities Emergency Youth Shelter, has seen firsthand the risks abandoned youth face as they search for a place to feel safe.
She said recently the Catholic Charity of the Texas Panhandle felt it was its duty to make sure there was such a place to serve as a haven from an unruly world.
"In talking to counselors at schools throughout the Amarillo area, there are quite a few kids that leave school on Friday and really don't have anywhere to go," Steelman said.
There are 1,500 to be exact and that's not counting the kids who are couch surfing or sleeping in cars. And because human trafficking is a growing epidemic, the charity said the need for a youth safe place is in even higher demand.
The Catholic Youth Emergency Shelter has become a licensed Safe Place Agency to intervene in a child's life at the point of crisis.
"The things that kids would access the services for would be maybe they are being bullied at school," Steelman said. "Maybe they're having some sexual identity issues and not really sure how to talk to their parents about that. Maybe they're not getting along with their parents or there's some family discord going on."
Issues like these lead to teen runaways, however Safe Place will offer a judge-free zone to keep homeless numbers down.
Any young person in search of a Safe Place can go to a variety of locations around town. From the Chick-fil-A on Georgia, to all the United Supermarkets in Amarillo. Once there an employee will make sure the child feels safe and comfortable. Then they'll locate a volunteer coordinator who will then take the child to the shelter.
Yellow and black safe place signs can be found at all locations. Once the child is in the coordinators hands, the program will attempt to reunite the runaway with their family.
If taken to the shelter, Safe Place will work to find permanent placement beyond the shelter.
Children are able to stay at the youth shelter for 21 days before being given a more permanent home.